Dutch doctors call for energy drinks ban for under 18s, Negative health effects reported in Canadian youth

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16 Jan 2018 --- Calls for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to under 18s have intensified in the Netherlands. Pediatricians are once again arguing for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to young people under the age of eighteen. The Dutch Society for Pediatrics says it is treating more and more young patients who report with symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue and cardiac arrhythmia. A ban is highly unlikely, however, with the Dutch Ministry of Health responding dismissively to the calls.

The Dutch Society for Pediatrics made its calls in an article in the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad yesterday. According to the doctors, it is not uncommon for young people aged 12 and over to drink six cans or more per day, which can lead to serious health problems. 

"When young people end up in our office with restlessness or heart rhythm disorders, we can think about all sorts of things in order to determine the cause. But we notice that energy drinks are more and more often the reasont," pediatrician Brita de Jong-Van Kempen is quoted in the article.

Energy drinks contain 3 times as much caffeine as soft drinks: 32 milligrams per 100 milliliters, compared to 10 milligrams per 100 milliliters. The maximum recommended amount of caffeine in children is 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. There are also large amounts of taurine in energy drinks. Taurine is a type of amino acid that occurs naturally in our body. It stimulates the nervous system and is released during exercise and in periods of stress. In addition, a can of energy drink contains about 9 lumps of sugar, as much as a can of cola.

At the moment there are no legal restrictions on the sale of energy drinks. The Dutch Nutrition Center does however, advise against energy drinks consumption for children under the age of thirteen and advises people under the age of 18 not to drink more than one can per day. In addition, the cans nowadays have a health warning about consumption by children.

However, according to the doctors, this is not enough. "This is not an innocent soft drink. A ban makes parents and children think, so that they are aware of the consequences. It used to be normal to drink alcohol at a young age, but now we know how harmful it is. We can wait until fatal incidents happen or we can take measures so that we can investigate the consequences,” according to De Jong-Van Kempen in the paper.

There is little enthusiasm about a ban from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, however, which sees more benefits in providing information through, for example, schools and sports clubs. “There are more products that you cannot consume or consume in moderation for your health. Prohibiting is therefore not the solution,” says a spokesman for the Ministry in Algemeen Dagblad.

The news comes as a new study finds that over half of Canadian youth and young adults who have consumed energy drinks have experienced negative health effects as a result, according to a study from the University of Waterloo.

In a nationwide survey of Canadian youth, over half of those who had ever consumed an energy drink had reported experiencing an adverse health event, including rapid heartbeat, nausea, and in rare cases, seizures.

Currently, Canadian legislation is meant to prohibit energy drinks from being marketed to children and energy drinks are not recommend to be used by people participating in sporting activities.

"Most risk assessments to date have used coffee as a reference for estimating the health effects of energy drinks; however, it is clear these products pose a greater health risk," said David Hammond a Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Waterloo. "The health effects from energy could be due to the different ingredients than coffee, or the ways in which they consumed, including with alcohol or during physical activity; regardless, the findings suggest a need to increase surveillance of health effects from these products."

In conducting the study, the researchers surveyed 2,055 young Canadians aged 12 to 24. Of those that had reported consuming energy drinks at some point in their lives, 55.4 percent reported experiencing an adverse health event.

Of those reporting adverse health events, 24.7 percent reported experiencing a fast heartbeat, 24.1 percent reported difficulty sleeping and 18.3 percent reported experiencing headaches. A total of 5.1 percent reported nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, 5 percent sought medical attention, 3.6 percent reported experiencing chest pains, and 0.2 percent reported having a seizure.

"The number of health effects observed in our study suggests that more should be done to restrict consumption among children and youth," said Hammond. "At the moment, there are no restrictions on children purchasing energy drinks, and they are marketed at the point-of-sale in grocery stores, as well as advertising that targets children."

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